Sameer Nair and Vikram Sakhuja get nostalgic about Kaun Banega Crorepati (KBC). Sameer Nair was the man who accompanied Amitabh Bachchan on that first trip to London to get a first-hand feel of ‘Who Wants to be a Millionaire?’. He then became the first producer of the show in India. Vikram Sakhuja helmed marketing and brand communication for KBC in those early days. Both veterans reminisce about how the world’s biggest game show took shape in India.
After my initial piece last week on KBC I took the liberty to call up two old friends who had played a stellar role in creating the KBC legend in India to write for us at Campaign India with memories and personal anecdotes from the past. Sameer Nair had a major role in not only persuading Mr. Bachchan to anchor KBC, but he also played a leading role in making KBC what it is today in his innings as CEO of Star TV post Peter Mukerjea. Vikram Sakhuja, contributed to creating some of the earliest campaigns for KBC, especially “9 baj Gaye Kya?”, which remains fresh even today in viewer’s memory.
Sameer Nair, ex-CEO, Star TV
As the 9th season of KBC premieres ... as someone who was closely involved in the season it first premiered, here are some random and fun facts.
- KBC first aired on Star Plus in July 2000, that's 17 years ago
- Mr. Bachchan has hosted 8 of the 9 seasons since then. Season 3 in 2007 was hosted by SRK
- The original Who Wants To Be A Millionaire was a British show and had aired in over 70 countries before we did the Indian version
- What made KBC uniquely different from any other version of Millionaire is that we had a movie superstar as a host. All other millionaire hosts were TV talk show hosts who donned the mantle
- In many ways, Who Wants To Be A Millionaire was the zenith of game show theory and practice in the West. Game Shows had always been a part of international programming strategy and Millionaire was the ultimate pinnacle
- The first promo of KBC was shot on the Millionaire sets in London. Mr. Bachchan did those two promos in single takes in a very short window that we got during the filming of the UK show
- KBC opened with spectacular ratings. To borrow a phrase used to describe Michael Jackson's Thriller Album, "KBC's impact was immediate and overpowering".
- KBC powered Star Plus from a distant number 3 behind Zee and Sony to an overnight number 1 - a position that Star Plus did not relinquish for 8 long years after that
- KBC's opening night and opening week ratings were 10+
- KBC's peak rating got to a high of 24
- Few people know that Kyunki Saas Bhi Kabhi Bahu Thi went on air the same night as KBC - on July 3rd at 10.30 pm. This show went on to become a runaway success and among many other achievements, also gave us our current I&B Minister
- KBC's success also saw some instant me-too's and rip-offs. Most notable were Sawal Dus Crore Ka and Chappar Phad Ke in Hindi, and Koteeswaran in Tamil. Needless to say none of the copycats succeeded
- KBC's stupendous success also saw empty roads, happy hours in restaurants and shifted theatre timings to cope with the tsunami at 9 pm
- We did a season of KBC Junior, another first in Millionaire folklore
- Mr. Bachchan agreeing to host KBC and then it's subsequent spectacular success also paved the way for A-List Movie Stars to appear on TV. Before KBC, television was regarded as a poor second cousin to Bollywood - and it was believed that only has-beens agreed to do TV
- It can be said that Mr. Bachchan legitimised TV for Bollywood. Since KBC, every single major and minor star has hosted, judged and otherwise appeared on Indian Television
- The early years of KBC was an age of nascent Internet and mobile telephony. When Mr. Bachchan asked a question, gave four options, locked the participant's answer and then went into a break without giving the answer, it kept an entire nation glued to their sofas and TVs. Today a younger viewing audience just googles the answer as soon as the question is asked. It's a telling commentary on how technology has permeated our lives so completely in these last 17 years
- When KBC aired first on Star Plus in 2000, there were 25 million satellite TV homes. Today in 2017, there are 165 million satellite TV homes
- Mr. Bachchan has shown himself to be an incredibly enduring host, charming an entire generation all over again. The original angry young man successfully metamorphosed into the nation's friend, philosopher and guide
- In its 9th Season, I can only wish Mr. Bachchan, Siddharth Basu, Team Synergy and Team Sony the very best
- Chalo Kheltey Hain Hum Aur Aap...Kaun Banega Crorepati...Duniya Ka Sabse Bada Gameshow
Vikram Sakhuja, Group CEO, Madison
I joined Star in Jan 2001. KBC was one season old, had redefined ratings and was the spearhead of Star’s success of owning the 9-10 band with KBC and 10-11 band with Kyunki Saas Bhi Kabhi Bahu thi and Kahani Ghar Ghar Ki. In fact, all top 50 slots in a week belonged to Star Plus.
In this environment, we were aware of the challenges of sequels / subsequent seasons of successful shows rating lesser than their debut season. My job at Star was to create and lead the marketing function for the network. The campaign we decided for Season 2 was “9 baj Gaye Kya?”.
While everybody loved the show, we ran the risk of inertia leading to fewer tune-ins. This campaign was a straight up call for appointment viewing that invoked all the brilliant moments and values of this wonderful show. We took the scripts to the iconic Studio 7 of Film City where we presented them to Mr Bachhan in his “chalet”. While I think the scripts were good, what you realized in the presence of the superstar was his ability to create magic even out of the mundane. Such was and is his charisma and talent. I was at the KBC launch last week in Mumbai and it was gratifying to hear after all these years the Channel invoking the nostalgia of KBC with the line “9 baj gaye kya”
The other high associated with KBC was actually being inside the set for the filming of an episode. Shot in almost the same time as the run time, the impact, emotion and changing of lives is nowhere as profound as it is on the set. Would strongly recommend people to curry favor from the Sony team and be present during the shoot. I’m looking forward to Monday 9PM.
Taking a cue from Vikram, I must share a personal anecdote from the past. My mother-in-law was in Mumbai to see us. I think, the year 2000 or 2001. I called up Siddharth Basu, the producer of KBC, and said I wanted her to come see the KBC shoot. Basu was most welcoming. Not only did my mother-in-law get to meet Mr. Bachchan himself and get photographed with him, Basu also got her to sit right next to the family member in the audience, who normally accompanies the player in the hot seat, and with whom Mr. Bachchan usually exchanges a few pleasantaries. As luck would have it, on that day’s shoot two or three players changed quickly in the hot seat. Their family members too got replaced next to where my mother-in-law was made to sit. Every time the hot seat player would change, the camera would pan to the family member and would also cover my mother-in-law. When the episodes started to air a couple of weeks later, with the incredible viewership of KBC, my mother-in-law became an instant celebrity in her home town of Patiala! Such was the power of KBC.
Sameer and Vikram have above already provided interesting insights from the past. From my own experience of KBC, the magic of the show was further enhanced when the Indian version of ‘Who Wants to be a Millionaire?’ was immortalized by director Danny Boyle in his 2008 drama film Slumdog Millionaire, adapted from the 2005 Indian novel Q & A by Vikas Swarup, which won eight U.S. Academy Awards (including Best Picture and Best Director) and seven BAFTA Awards.
Before I close this piece, it would be interesting to look at some other ingredients that make the global format of Millionaire, as also KBC so successful. These ingredients are: the music, the set and the catchphrases.
The original music of Millionaire was composed by the father-son team, Keith and Matthew Strachan. The Strachan tracks were said to be ‘mimicking the sound of a beating heart’ and their music was perfectly in tune with the ever-increasing pulse of the contestants. Also, the Millionaire musical score was the first ever created to feature music playing almost through the entire episode of the show, making it an intrinsic part of the show format.
The original set used in the UK for Millionaire was conceived by British production designer Andy Walmsley, and is easily the most reproduced scenic design in television history. Unlike other game shows whose sets have always been designed to make the contestants feel at ease, Millionaire’s set was designed to make the contestant feel uncomfortable. This was done so that the game show feels more like a movie thriller rather than a typical quiz show!
I am not sure if David Briggs, Mike Whitehill and Steven Knight, the creators of Millionaire actually wrote the catchphrases of the show or they evolved over time. In many of the overseas versions, ‘Is that your final answer?’ has become a part of local folklore and lexicon much the same way as ‘Lock kiya jaye?’ in India. The catchphrases of Millionaire have added to the overall success of the show.
I did not mention the anchor of the show as one of the main ingredients of the success of the show but at least in two geographies, the show came to be identified in the public mind with the presenter himself. The original British version of the show debuted on 4 September 1998, and aired on ITV with Chris Tarrant as its host until 11 February 2014. Tarrant decided to quit the show after 15 years, and ITV decided to cancel the show after his contract finished, stating that there would not be any further specials beyond the ones that had already been planned. Tarrant's final live celebrity edition aired on 19 December 2013, and the final episode had a heartwarming closure with a film called ‘Chris' Final Answer’. Amitabh Bachchan has remained the face of KBC in India. Shahrukh Khan anchored one season, but never rose to the success or stature of Mr. Bachchan forcing the show to revert to him as the anchor. I did mention it earlier but this year too, the broadcasters checked out alternatives in Madhuri Dixit and Bachchan’s daughter-in-law, Aishwarya. Viewer feedback was overwhelmingly in favor of the Big B continuing. Most would agree that sans Bachchan, KBC despite all the greed and all the money, may never have been such a successful show.
All the very best to KBC 9. I hope the franchise grows and prospers season to season.
(Sandeep Goyal chronicles and explains much of the past in business and communication, and connects it to the current in his Blog.)